Varsity Blues: Thoughts Falling From Val Thorens

The worse part of skiing is inevitably when, for the fifth time that morning, you crumple, your skis flying in some scientifically impossible direction, and you find yourself left limping over to collect them in boots designed to torture you, all as a line of French children nimbly cut past.

Variations on the theme include the time where you froze entirely at the sheer steepness of a slope (well, it was a blue, ranked ‘easy’, but trust me, it was awful), because you made the critical error of looking ahead at what was coming. Unwilling to go down, you now feel your permanent debt to the friend who very kindly helped you walk your gear a kilometre back up the piste. Seriously, who would actually do that, ever, for anybody?

Yet, pride of place is reserved for the Greatest Fall of All, where on an icy, vicious black (fine, it was another blue), you completely misjudge your slow, conservative, oil-tanker-circumference turn and jet off the edge of the piste, world changing angles and throwing shapes, your head colliding with a sheet of ice (this is why we wear helmets), and, when you understand your life again, you see your equipment strewn up the slope. A man with a lovely French accent from Cambridge retrieves your poles from the rocks, while your friend (the same friend) take the cable car back up and snowboards down to help.

Despite these things, I swear, you had fun. If you give it long enough, if you get to be old and comfortable and melancholic about your lost youth, even the 18-hour coach rides there and back will exist in a fine, nostalgic resin.

Maybe, with time enough, this will go so far that it extends to the DJ at the opening night party, and his big, philosophical question for the crowd, ‘ARE YOU READY TO GET FUCKIN’ NAUGHTY?’ Other highlights include listing the names of the largest cities by population in the UK, with each asking us to declare ourselves, should we belong.

If you give it long enough, if you get to be old and comfortable and melancholic about your lost youth, even the 18-hour coach rides there and back will exist in a fine, nostalgic resin.

The flat has a special place in your heart, site of warmth, and recovery, and  an acute dislocation from ordinary time. Things like degrees and your absurd reading list for the Restoration period were unable to follow so far above sea-level. As in the music video for George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’, you were simply young people, without any further context than your snowed-over surroundings, and the impression only increases after your return to human altitudes.

You know that not everyone returned to level ground. You learnt of Matt Smith’s death while on the trip, and you know very little about him apart from his name, but it adds a sober note to your memories. What for you was a ski trip when you were 19 is when someone else died at 22. People are old and comfortable and melancholic about their lost youth when they die–they don’t just die young. You hope his family and friends find a way to understand.

The mountains themselves try to draw things together. It was the time you froze at the top of the blue (the first blue), and had to be walked back up the piste. Your friend said something about the view halfway through the impromptu hike, and you looked over to see the jagged top of everything spreading out below you. Your profound, aesthetic appreciation was reduced by how out of breath you are, but you remembered learning about Frankenstein in school, and how the Alps enact ‘the sublime’–the huge and terrible beauty of nature which we cannot safely comprehend. It would be a stretch to say you were terrified, but the complete disjunction of scale did something to unify the tiny figures that were down there–moving at high speed, and crashing, and sometimes getting up again.